Capital Punishment: Ruth Ellis

Hello all and welcome to this week’s blog post! Today we are going to be delving into capital punishment and the very famous case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Before I begin I hope that I  cause no offence to anyone who has been personally or directly linked with this criminal case, thoughts and opinions are all my own, and please remember that that is all they are.

Ruth Ellis was a British model and nightclub hostess and on the 10th April 1955 she shot David Blakely outside the Magdala public house in Hampstead and was subsequently arrested. Ellis had a troubled life where she continually got involved with the wrong kinds of people. She became a nightclub hostess as a result of her nude modelling work suggesting that she did have prospects for the future but these were soon deterred when she turned to prostitution and later became pregnant. Due to her continually limited funds, she decided to have the baby illegally aborted so that she could return to work as soon as possible. However, she later went on to become the manager of ‘The Little Club’ and as a result was lavished with expensive gifts from multiple admirers, resulting in a fourth pregnancy, again, having another abortion. The father of the child was David Blakely who remained with her while they both continued to see other people. Blakely was a violent character and offered to marry Ellis which she accepted but lost yet another baby when he punched her in the stomach after a violent argument. From this alone, we can see what a troubled individual this culmination of events would have made someone do. Usually, I wouldn’t go so in depth into the background of someone who has committed a crime as it doesn’t always hold the deepest relevance. This case is different in that her life tells us a lot about the motives she had behind what she eventually came to do.

In total, five shots were fired at Blakely. The first shot missed and Ellis began to run after him where she fired at him for the second time, resulting in his subsequent collapse. Afterwards, she stood over him and fired her gun three more times. It has been noted that one bullet was fired less then half an inch from Blakely’s back which meant that powder burns were left on his skin. The last bullet to be shot went into the ground where it ricocheted off the road landing on a civilian, Gladys Kensington’s thumb, clearly unplanned.

What is most interesting about this case is the level of acceptance Ellis had from the moment she was arrested, ‘It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him’. She also told her mother that she did not want a petition to reprieve her from the death sentence. In this sense, it could be argued that she did not want to continue to live her life anymore, and that a death sentence was an easier way out then continuing as she was. Many physicians claimed that she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the terrible life she lead with abortion after abortion and violent lover after violent lover, ‘It is quite clear to me that I was not the person who shot him. When I saw myself with the revolver I knew I was another person’. Further evidence that this case was not given the fair trial it deserves lies in the time that jury took to actually make a decision, a total of twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to decide whether someone lives or someone dies. In this respect, we can be sure that this would not have been enough time to make a fair and complete deliberation without their being some leniency, which I’m sure there was. It is fair to say that psychiatry techniques and methods have advanced since the fifties, and with this in mind, it could have been the difference between guilty/ innocent verdict, or at least one that wasn’t punishable by death. However, doctors during this time confirmed that Ellis did not have a mental illness and was certainly not insane.

I think what this case does best is highlight the clear questions society had around capital punishment. Personally, I’m glad the UK has stopped capital punishment, I’ve never though ‘an eye for an eye’ was the way forward, and more time should be taken to understand the reason these criminals did what they did and work out a way to rehabilitate them and ultimately give them a second chance, whether you think they’re deserving of it or not.  





Later, she was found guilty and was sentenced to death where she was hanged at HM prison Holloway.